A success is a success. What kind of a success? It’s a success. A success is a success and when you have a good success, it’s because it’s successful.

Posted by on Dec 31, 2013 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

I think that PM Chrétien would be proud of that statement, but how would you define a successful meeting? The links below will take you to some different perspectives on the recent Public Budget Meeting.

Councillor Comments:

Deputy Mayor Mike Vandertoorn’s comments

Councillor John Martinello’s comments

Citizen Comments:

Brighton City Council – “Baah, humbug!”

Brighton budget process out of whack with reality

At the last meeting of Brighton Council, Councillor Craig Kerr stated that as result of the Director of Finance being away on leave, “the entire budget process has now been thrown into turmoil and may well not be concluded until late next spring and as a consequence, we will lose the opportunity for early tendering on critical and major infrastructure contracts that last year saved us in the hundreds of thousands of dollars“. This to me sounds like sensationalism and fear mongering. It seems Councillor Kerr is suggesting that the efficient operation of the budget process is dependent on one staff member alone. If this is true, how did Council and the CAO let this happen? I think that it would have been far more appropriate for Councillor Kerr to report on what actions will be taken by Council and CAO Frost to minimize any negative impacts created by the absence of the Director of Finance. 

The fact that the Director went on leave a week before the public meeting should have in no way affected the ability of staff to provide updated information and answer questions from citizens. It is also ridiculous to suggest that due to the absence of the Director that there will be a delay to the budget process.

 

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Brighton Council spent $3,286.32 on legal fees to determine options to recover $5,500

Posted by on Dec 22, 2013 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

A letter of opinion dated August 28, 2013 was provided to the Municipality of Brighton from the Law firm, Cunningham Swan (link below). According to the letter Ms. Kimmett asked for an “opinion about whether the Mayor had the authority to instruct the municipality’s solicitors to undertake certain work that resulted in a substantial legal account for the municipality and, if not, what remedies are available to the municipality”.

A letter of opinion dated August 28, 2013 from the Law firm, Cunningham Swan

I am not sure where the information provided to Cunningham Swan was gathered, but in his report, Mr. Wilkin refers to it as “facts”. This to me seems a little presumptuous as to my knowledge there has not been a legal finding of “fact” regarding the information provided. It is concerning that unsubstantiated information is provided from a sole source has been presented as “fact”. As such, I think that any reasonable person presented with the same set of information would have come to the same conclusion as Mr. Wilkin. Simply put, the quality and usability of the output is directly related to the quality of the input.

There also seems to be a lot of opinion based information being presented as fact in Council Chambers and if it is being presented just for personal political gain, it should be stopped. Not only because it would be a breach of the Municipal Code of Conduct, but also because it does not help in promoting constructive debate. There is a serious lack of informed constructive debate around the table and this needs to change.

Instead of providing unsubstantiated information to Cunningham Swan and asking them for an opinion on the same, it would have been far more prudent to present a scenario and ask for possible remedies. Therefore, I think that perhaps an hour’s consultation would have provided a more cost effective result to the taxpayers. In this approach Cunningham Swan would simply have been asked a straightforward question, “if the Mayor acted outside of his authority what remedies are available?”. The remedies would be the same as those offered by Mr. Wilkin in his report, but the Municipality could have possibly saved $3,000 in legal fees.

It is my understanding that the information presented in this report has been referred to the Integrity Commissioner for investigation and if so we will be looking at further legal expenses regarding this issue. I have asked CAO Frost and the Integrity Commissioner for a confirmation of what complaints are currently before the Integrity Commissioner, but at the time or writing neither have been either willing or able to provide this information.

To me this report seems to be another waste of tax dollars on legal fees.

 

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Brighton Council spent $209,073.33 on legal fees in two and a half years!

Posted by on Dec 15, 2013 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

In response to my question to CAO Frost asking for a total of all legal fees incurred to date since the start of this term of Council, CAO Frost replied, “The following legal fee summary was compiled as a result of a media request”

Brighton_Council_legal_fees

However, the information previously provided to the media was not complete. There were payments totalling $41,950.33 made to Amberley Gavel and the Integrity Commissioner in 2012 that were omitted from the totals above.

Payments made to Amberley Gavel and the Integrity Commissioner are as follows:

Amberley Gavel – 2012 – $5,000 – Retainer
Fred Dean – 2012 – $22,771.85 – Code of Conduct complaint investigation
Brenda Glover – 2012 – $14,178.48 – Personnel matter referred to the Integrity Commissioner. Brenda Glover is a member of the Amberley Gavel group that Fred Dean delegated the matter to.

Therefore the actual total spent on legal fees in 2012 alone (assuming no other omissions) was a whopping $133,317.33. That is more than double the total legal fees spent during the full four years of the previous term of Council.

The total amount spent on legal fees in the first two and half years of the current term of Brighton Council is $209,073.33.

That figure does not even include the reports currently being prepared by the Integrity Commissioner. Hard to know what these will cost, but the last one cost $22,771.85. Also not included is this total is anything since July 1st, 2013 such as the legal opinion from Cunningham Swan which cost $3,286.32. I will be writing a separate post regarding that legal opinion.

Considering the information above you would probably assume that as part of good stewardship, Brighton Council would do everything possible to limit further legal expenses. Well, that assumption would be WRONG! They recently voted to pay LAS to perform legal services that the Ontario Ombudsman can provide at NO COST to the Municipality. Now they are coming back to the taxpayers looking for double digit tax increases.

Some councillors like to talk about looking out for tax dollars and others actually vote to save tax dollars. When will Councillors Kerr, Rittwage, Rowley and Vandertoorn vote to revoke LAS as the closed meeting investigator for Brighton and remove this financial liability from the taxpayers?

 

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Brighton Council prefers to pay for services they can get for free. Why?

Posted by on Dec 13, 2013 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics | 1 comment

Ok, this is a long post, but lots of important information and questions to consider.

Why would four members of Brighton Council prefer to pay LAS $1,800 per day + expenses + liabilities + HST of our tax dollars for legal services rather than let the Ontario Ombudsman provide the services at NO COST to the Municipality?

In a recorded vote, Councillors Kerr, Rittwage, Rowley and Vandertoorn voted in favour of paying LAS for this service rather than having the Ontario Ombudsman provide the service at no cost.

Councillor Rittwage has commented to me that I am concerned about $330 per year and not other legal fees. I have already written about wasteful spending on legal fees and I will be writing more on that in future posts. Last Year (2012) Brighton Council spent $133,317.33 on legal fees. $41,950.33 of that was paid to investigate complaints against councillors. So why would these councillors want to leave us on the hook for unlimited legal fees and liability? The $330 is just the tip of the iceberg!

Well, $330 per year may not be a waste of money to Councillor Rittwage, but just ask any community group what they could do with $ 2,800. That is the amount of taxpayer dollars that have been paid to retain LAS since 2008 for a service that as Councillor Rittwage stated is “a service we have never needed”. Never needed, but worth $2,800? Really?

Why pay an out of town company every year for a service that you have never used when it could be spent supporting our community? Recently Council rejected a funding request for $2,500 from The Beacon. Ask them what they think of $330 per year! Councillor Rittwage seemed keen to support the group when they requested the funds, but I guess there was not enough left once the lawyers had been paid.

About LAS:
LAS is a subsidiary of the Association of the Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). According to the LAS website at the time of writing, “131 municipalities take advantage of this cost effective LAS program”. In order to use LAS there is an annual fee of $330 even though they don’t actually perform any investigative services themselves. It would seem that they are paid $330 a year to do a paperwork shuffle.

LAS_131

As stated on the LAS website “To deliver this program, LAS has contracted a third party, Amberley Gavel Ltd. to provide all investigation services. Amberley Gavel maintains a roster of experienced and trained individuals located across Ontario to provide required investigative services at the most reasonable cost.” The “most reasonable cost” is $1,800 per day for legal fees alone.

“Six of the eight board members [of LAS] are municipal officials…. The other five are senior managers at other municipalities… Seven of the 10 investigators are former municipal politicians and managers. Another is a lawyer who acts exclusively for municipalities and municipal associations. How willing are all of these people to side with the upstart constituents who rock the boat?” Anne Jarvis, Windsor Star, April 30, 2013


About the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman
:
The Ontario Ombudsman is an independent officer of the provincial legislature who has been investigating public complaints about the administration of government services since 1975. The Office of the Ontario Ombudsman provides closed meeting investigator services at no cost to 191 Municipalities across the Province of Ontario. The Ombudsman’s Office represents far more Municipalities than LAS and has performed significantly more investigations than LAS. All services are provided at NO COST to the Municipality.

municipal-meetings

Read the Ombudsman’s second annual report on the work of their Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET), which is solely devoted to upholding Ontario’s municipal open meeting law, also known as the Sunshine Law.

Read 2012-2013 OMLET Annual Report (click to view)

Sunshine Law (click to view)

There was recently an article in the Brighton Independent where the writer quoted assistant professor Timothy Cobban “If it’s just council trying to develop a group consensus or position, they’re not instructing any administrators to move ahead with a particular project; it still has to go through the democratic process of a council meeting where business must occur in the public eye“. This to me is a fundamental misinterpretation of how municipal councils should function. It is not just the vote to instruct staff through the passing of a bylaw that should occur in the public eye. The discussion around establishing a group consensus leading up to the vote MUST also occur in the public eye. If not, what are they trying to hide?

In the same article Councillor Kerr mentioned that “The thing that the proponents of the ombudsman conveniently forget is that the cost for the Ombudsman is not free -he costs the taxpayers of this province money every year“. Exactly! As taxpayers we have already pre-paid for the Ombudsman’s services. What Councillor Kerr is omitting, is that he wants the Brighton taxpayers to pay again for a service that we have already paid for. Why does he think that is a good use of tax dollars? Especially considering the double digit tax increases currently being considered?

Some Councillors seem to be concerned that the Ombudsman has too strict a definition of what constitutes a closed meeting. In fact Councillor Vandertoorn wondered if the Ombudsman was “clear on what a closed meeting really is” and Councillor Rittwage thinks that the Ombudsman is “out to lunch. Even if these councillors actually had greater expertise in Municipal Law than the Ontario Ombudsman, I really don’t see the need for insulting comments such as these. This reflects poorly on the Municipality of Brighton. Do they feel that they are in such a weak position that they have to resort to cheap insults to further their point of view?

I asked the Ontario Ombudsman Mr. Marin himself the following question, “Some Brighton councillors think that your definition of a closed meeting is too strict and they would not be able to talk to each other outside of council chambers to see if another councillor would be interested in seconding a motion. Comments?” and his reply was, “I have no problem with that scenario. If councillors in Brighton are saying that they are misrepresenting our position.

This is obviously a “touchy” subject for these four councillors, because when you listen to the audio recordings from the council meetings (see links below) you will hear that there was very little debate and direct questions were either avoided or refused to be answered.

Please take the time to listen to these audio clips (you may need to turn up your volume) as some of the comments are simply amazing! Also, pay attention to the way that the questions are answered as well as the substance of the answers. Why do simple questions on transparency and fiscal responsibility seem to make them so irritated?

Click here to listen to the Nov 18 discussion regarding LAS
Click here to listen to the Nov 18 question period

During the question period at the November 18th meeting, (click to listen at 3:15 sec) Councillor Kerr refused to answer my simple question. Instead he chose to make a rather insulting reference to “wife beating”. At least one other Councillor found humour in his remark. I think that this comment is highly inappropriate and I think Councillor Kerr should apologize accordingly.

Click here to listen to the Nov 4 discussion regarding LAS
Click here to listen to the Nov 4 question period

Reasons given for not wanting to use the NO COST services of the Ontario Ombudsman:

Councillor Rittwage:
Reason –  The Ombudsman is busy with other Provincial duties and would not be able to provide timely service.
Reason –  Having the spectre of a fee, a person will think long and hard before submitting a senseless complaint that doesn’t need to be investigated.

Regarding timely: The appointed Integrity Commissioner is the same company that that would be performing closed meeting investigations. The first report provided was well outside of the required 90 day window. It is my understanding that there are currently two investigations underway that have been ongoing for months. So I am not sure what Councillor Rittwage expects when he mentions “timely”. Also, it should be noted that I mentioned above “it is my understanding” as I asked for clarification from CAO Frost and although complaints would be forwarded by her to the Integrity Commissioner, she was not able to confirm how many investigations are currently underway. As directed by CAO Frost, I have asked the Integrity Commissioner to confirm this for me and I have not yet had a response from them.

Regarding the “spectre of a fee”: This one is very wrong! It’s just wrong that a councillor would want to put up barriers to a lawful complaint procedure. The procedure already has a mechanism to filter out frivolous or vexatious complaints. If you don’t like the law, work to change it, but don’t try to circumvent it using money as a barrier. That is just an attempt to bully and nobody likes a bully.

Councillor Kerr:
Reason –  Serious differences of opinion between the Ombudsman’s definition of a closed meeting compared to industry experts

Regarding definition of an open meeting: see above and since 191 Municipalities don’t have a problem with it, why does Councillor Kerr?

Councillor Vandertoorn:
Reason –  LAS has the experience and resources to do the investigations in a timely manner.

Regarding timely and experience: see above

Councillor Rowley:
Reason –  Her guess is that if AMO thought that the Ombudsman could perform this role as well as LAS they would also make this recommendation.

Regarding recommendations: Probably the best person to ask about this would be Nancy Plumridge as she is the Director of Administration & Business Development for AMO as well as the President and Secretary-Treasurer for LAS.

Do any of these reasons sound logical to you? To me it seems like logic has left the building!

There are 191 Municipalities across the province of Ontario that don’t have a problem with the Ombudsman’s definition of a closed meeting, So why do we have four councillors that are so opposed to having the Ontario Ombudsman provide oversight and training to Brighton councillors???

We need open and transparent leadership that is fiscally responsible, now more than ever!

 

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Brighton budget process out of whack with reality

Posted by on Dec 10, 2013 in Local Politics, Politics | 1 comment

I received the following email from Councillor John Martinello. We need to foster a different mindset when it comes to expenditures. Maintaining services while not increasing taxes does not have to be a mutually exclusive proposition. Sure, it’s not easy, but it can be done. Take a look at Windsor, Ontario.

Across the river from bankrupt Detroit, Windsor boasts five years without a tax hike

Millions to be spent on infrastructure, no tax increase in Windsor’s 2014 budget

1. At a December 4, 2013 committee of the whole meeting, staff presented the first draft of the 2014 Brighton municipal budget (@ http://brighton.ca/photos/custom/COW%20Dec%204%2013.pdf ). This draft budget proposed a 17.37 % increase in your tax rate.

 

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Nelson Mandela, history will remember him well

Posted by on Dec 6, 2013 in Commentary, Politics |

While working as a research assistant at the University of Natal (Durban) in the early 90’s I had the pleasure of listening to Mandela speak shortly after his release from prison.

I was moved by the atmosphere created in the anticipation of his arrival. It was as if a rock star, rather than a political figure that was about to enter the room and indeed, he received a “rock star’s welcome”. To be honest, during his speech I was thinking to myself that although there was some humour mixed with a little rhetoric, there was not much substance to it. However, by the time that he concluded, I remember thinking, “yeh, I’d vote for that guy”.

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What did we get for $22,771.85 in legal fees?

Posted by on Dec 4, 2013 in Commentary, Local Politics |

The report from the Integrity Commissioner, Fred Dean dated March 16, 2012 was provided in response to a request submitted by Councillor Craig Kerr on November 8, 2011. The cost to taxpayers for this 10 page report was $22,771.85. Although the Integrity Commissioner found that Councillor Kerr, Councillor Martinello and Mayor Walas breached the Municipal Code of Conduct, he concluded that no penalty should be imposed by council. So my question is, what did we actually get for our $2,300 per page?

Report of the Integrity Commissioner to the Council of the Municipality of Brighton

What I find very odd and concerning in this report is that in the section titled “Nature of Complaints” it simply states that “The alleged breaches are known to all members of council. I do not intend to detail each allegation”. If we are paying $23K for a report, surely we should be provided with the details of what is being investigated? Without the details of the complaint as a point of reference, what sense can be made of any findings?

Also, looking at the Municipal Code of Conduct it would seem that the Integrity Commissioner in filing this report was also in breach of the Code of Conduct, as the final report is required within 90 days of the complaint.

With regard to some of the findings in Mr. Dean’s report:

Councillors Craig and Martinello
Anyone that has attended a Brighton Council meeting could deduce that these two councillors “do not get along”, so no news there. Not sure why Mr. Dean is referencing Councillor Kerr on a first name basis?

Micromanaging
Without knowing the specific evidence of the complaint (not provided by Mr. Dean) it is hard for me to understand what is the problem with asking questions of staff? Councillors are the elected officials and need to understand the specifics of a particular situation as they are ultimately responsible for it and to the taxpayers that have enquired about a particular issue.

Councillor Rittwage confirmed this in a recent council meeting when he mentioned that if he had questions he would send an email or phone staff to get the answer. Again without seeing the complaint, this would seem a bit of a double standard. Appropriate for some councillors, but not for others?

Also I fail to see how emailing questions to staff (lengthy or otherwise) could be equated to “directing staff”. If indeed councillor Martinello was “micromanaging staff” Mr. Dean has not detailed how this was happening.

Procurement Policy
I would be interested to see Brighton’s Purchasing By-law as recently council elected to award a sole source contract to LAS for the purpose of providing closed meeting investigation services. The Purchasing by-law was not available in either the By-Laws or the Purchasing/ Tenders/ Bids sections of the Municipal website.

The Integrity Commissioner states that “There is no inherent right in any member of council or staff to commit the municipality to a purchase unless that official is specifically authorized to do so.”

If there was more supporting evidence it should have been presented, as beginning a negotiation does not constitute a commitment to purchase. In fact the code of conduct requires that “Council Members will use rational, objective decision-making processes that are supported by appropriate research of options“.

Conflict of Interest
This section is confusing as well and according to my interpretation of the Code of Conduct, conflict of interest claims are outside of the Integrity Commissioner’s mandate. 5.2.2. iii “(b) if the complaint on its face is with respect to non-compliance with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the complainant shall be advised to review the matter with the complainant’s own legal counsel”. So if understand this correctly, the integrity Commissioner should not have investigated and billed the Municipality for this portion of the complaint.

This report seems very vague and certainly lacks the detail I would have expected considering that it cost close to $23,000, which based on an hourly rate of $300.00 works out to almost 77 hours. I will let you make your own conclusions as to whether the report was money well spent.

What does appear clear is that a majority of council seems to be very happy with the substance of the report. I say this because they accepted Mr. Fred Dean’s recommendation and hired an Integrity Commissioner for a term of five years. They hired Amberley Gavel, a company in which Fred Dean is a principal.

CAO Frost advised Council that a number of people who act as municipal Integrity Commissioners had been contacted, but only one proposal had been received. On November 6th, 2013 (exactly a month ago today) I emailed CAO Frost asking her several questions including “The names of all contractors contacted to bid on the Integrity Commissioner contract“. Although I have received a reply to some of the questions, this one has not yet been answered.

Brighton_Integrity_Commissioner_Vote

Councillors Kerr, Rittwage, Rowley and Vandertoorn voted in favour of paying Amberley Gavel $5,000.00 to have them assume the role of Integrity Commissioner for 5 years and perform one day of training. Also as part of this agreement, taxpayers will be paying $300.00 per hour to receive similar reports as the one discussed above.

There is currently an investigation under way and who knows what the cost of that will be as it has been ongoing for months.

It should also be noted that even if the Integrity Commissioner finds that there is a serious breach of the Code of Conduct, the maximum penalty that can be imposed is to deduct three months pay from the councillor at fault. To me it would make more sense to have the information regarding an alleged infraction made public, with evidence from both sides and then let the public decide who is at fault. At least that way we can avoid tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees being spent with no real penalty, even when fault is found.

Payments made to Amberley Gavel and the Integrity Commissioner in 2012 alone are as follows:

Amberley Gavel – 2012 – $5,000.00 – Retainer
Fred Dean – 2012 – $22,771.85 – Code of Conduct complaint investigation
Brenda Glover – 2012 – $14,178.48 – Personnel matter referred to the Integrity Commissioner. Brenda Glover is a member of the Amberley Gavel group that Fred Dean delegated the matter to.

Total:  $ 41,950.33

 

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ENSS track completion delayed again…

Posted by on Dec 1, 2013 in Commentary | 1 comment

Today I have sent the following to the Director of Education for KPRDSB, Mr. Hick.

I am writing not only as a parent, but also a School Council member, a donor and a taxpayer and it is with great disappointment and frustration that I am doing so. As you know, our school community and the community at large has made a huge investment financially as well as investing countless volunteer hours into the construction of the new track at ENSS.

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